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Restaurants | CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Small plates, large ambitions

November 25, 2004|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

The old Citrus space, last occupied by Alex, has come to life again, this time as Meson G. Meson, of course, is Spanish for inn, and the G? Well, that refers to chef-owner Tim Goodell of Aubergine in Newport Beach.

Goodell and his wife, Lisa, were scouring Los Angeles in search of a restaurant space when Alex Scrimgeour suddenly closed Alex and moved back to Britain.

The couple jumped at the chance to take on one of Los Angeles' choicest restaurant spaces.

Meson G is not at all Aubergine redux. This is Goodell's thoughtful take on the small-plates concept. It's not exactly tapas, more a collection of elegant dishes served in smaller portions. At Aubergine, Goodell plays with culinary influences and accents to brilliant effect, so it's no surprise his menu here is more graduate school than tapas 101.

It's wonderful to walk into the old Citrus and find it so full of life again. The bar is in the same place, but the bistro area has been turned into a sexy lounge with zebra-patterned carpet. The main room has an airy, contemporary look; sort of Table 8 with elbow room. They've also added a posh, glassed-in terrace in front.

The word is already out, and on a recent night a wildly eclectic crowd was already ensconced on the curvy banquettes upholstered in orange.

In the open kitchen, chef Eric Greenspan and his crew were a blur of motion, producing a series of sophisticated dishes.

Everything on the menu sounds terrific. Deep red heart-shaped piquillo peppers pick up more flavor from a marinade. There are lovely little agnolotti stuffed with butternut squash and embellished with a wisp of Parmesan foam and fried sage leaves.

When someone at the table next to me ordered a risotto, a cook wheeled over a cart with a scale and a jar of white Alba truffles. They were ceremoniously smelled and then shaved onto the scale. At Meson G, truffles are priced by the gram, and you can have as little or as much as you want.

We ordered our risotto sans truffle. I loved the idea of risotto with both braised and raw celery, and just some Parmesan. It's a very pure taste.

The menu is filled with good ideas: mussels steamed with chorizo and Jerusalem artichokes ("sunchokes"), fried calamari with smoked paprika, tuna carpaccio with celery root and pear remoulade.

Passing plates around the table, people were relaxed and talkative. Just like that, the space had been transformed from a solemn, serious restaurant (Alex) to something lighthearted and fun.

Skirt steak is delicious, marinated in cider and served with Cabrales blue cheese and grilled apples. Duck breast is dressed up with preserved orange and black olives. And baby lamb chops come with a seductive eggplant puree and a gremolata made with preserved lemon.

We tried a lot of dishes. My favorite: sea urchin gratin. Sensational!

Desserts weren't as impressive as I'd expect from Goodell, but the cheeses certainly were, though maybe a bit mingy in portion.

This just in: For those who want to eat a big plate of one thing, each night Meson G is offering one large plate, which could be, for example, a 12-ounce, dry-aged New York steak for $37.

And like many restaurants, Meson G also has a chef's table, by reservation only, for those who want to get closer to the action.

*

Meson G

Where: 6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles

When: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays to Fridays; dinner 6 to 11 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 6 to 10 p.m. Sundays. Bar open until 2 a.m. daily. Valet parking.

Cost: Salad and vegetables, $8 to $11; fish and seafood, $9 to $16; meat, $9 to $18; desserts and cheese, $8 to $12; cheese plates $10 to $17.

Info: (323) 525-1415

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